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Coming out of the chamber

At the Norwegian Chamber Music Festivals, the musicians decide.


[festival] On Friday 11 August, Tine Thing Helseth will kick off the 18th edition of the Oslo Chamber Music Festival. She won NRK's ​​music competition "Virtuos" this winter and came second in the Eurovision Young Musician final in Vienna in May, but her instrument – the trumpet – is not exactly typical of chamber music's core repertoire from classicism and romance.

- The repertoire for the solo trumpet is much smaller than for violin and piano, but it is partly from the Baroque and from the 20th century. It turns out that I play a lot of new music, she says.

A national movement

It is easy to see chamber music as the last stronghold of the well-dressed bourgeoisie, but almost all of Norway's chamber music festivals are initiated and conducted by the musicians themselves – with the help of good networks and relatively low budgets. The Oslo Chamber Music Festival was first held in 1989, and the phenomenon has since spread to Elverum, Tønsberg, Risør, Stavanger, Hardanger, Trondheim, Røros and Lofoten. Norwegian musicians are also behind the chamber music festivals at Koster and in Båstad in Sweden.

- All festivals are started and run by enthusiastic musicians – Arve Tellefsen in Oslo, Grieg Trio in Stavanger, Leif Ove Andsnes in Risør and Tor Espen Aspaas in Røros. Many have a stated goal of gathering friends and acquaintances to play chamber music, and the network of those artistically responsible is very important, says Alf Magnus Reistad, project manager for music in the culture department at NRK.

Reistad believes that the Oslo festival has been an important role model for the successors, who have all borrowed elements from the programming and profile of Arve Tellefsen, Håvard Gimse and August Albertsen. Most concentrate on core composers such as Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, but there are exceptions.

- Trondheim is far stronger in contemporary music, they manage to attract composer stars that the leading contemporary music festival Ultimafestivalen has dreamed of presenting for years. But in Oslo they are very good at satisfying different target groups, in the form of concerts with everything from early music on original instruments to contemporary music.

Radical chamber music

Astrid Kvalbein, music writer and critic in Dagsavisen, shares Reistad's views on the chamber music festivals. Troikaen Risør, Oslo and Stavanger are leading, but with the exception of Trondheim, most of the programming is pretty conservative.

- It is a pity that so little contemporary music is played. Much of what is today the classics in the repertoire, was in its time very radical. Beethoven's last string quartet was groundbreaking, and even much of today's contemporary music sounds quite conventional compared to Beethoven's on his most radical.

The most important thing about the chamber music festivals is that they fill a gap in concert Norway, Kvalbein thinks.

- It is the festivals that play chamber music, get media attention and attract new spectators. Otherwise this year the offer is poor, and even in Oslo it is difficult to arrange concerts, says Kvalbein.

- The rest of the year you struggle as an animal to fill the chamber concerts in the Old Lodge and the University's Hall, and it has proved difficult to attract a paying audience. Even the house concerts of the Norwegian Opera and the chamber series of the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra are either very cheap or free. Even though it is the same music that is played, says Reistad.

Important arenas

Classical music struggles with an image as socially exclusive, and one can argue that the Oslo Chamber Music Festival's choice of concert venues reinforces that impression: Five of the concerts take place in the Castle Chapel, three in the Old Lodge and 13 in the Castle Church at Akershus Fortress. At the Park Theater on Grünerløkka, only one concert will be performed. Tine Thing Helseth thinks it is important to use less "serious" concert venues.

- There should be more more accessible concert venues. At the same time, it is important to preserve the tradition of classical music. For many, it gives an extra experience to go to, for example, Slottskirken.

Reistad believes that the exclusive concert venues are one of the secrets behind the festival's success.

- Many of the festivals' strengths are that they are arranged in small places, in unfamiliar concert venues with natural gems as a bonus. If you are first in place on the spot, you have little choice but to participate as much as possible. The arena selection for the Oslo Chamber Music Festival puts an extra edge on the event because Arve Tellefsen, with the help of his contacts in the Royal Court, manages to gain access to places that are otherwise closed.

Will make classical music visible

[listening] Tine Thing Helseth is a board member of the Listening Association for Classical Music because she wants to make classical music visible to most people, especially young people.

- The Listening Association was established when NRK threatened to shut down the radio channel NRK Alltid Klassisk and the Broadcasting Orchestra. There is also too little classical music in NRK P2. Today you can go a lifetime without listening to classical music. Now there is a youth department of the Listening Association on the stairs, and I am very passionate about showing others how nice it is to play music!

This summer, the association received sharp criticism because the association's leader, Tore Brantenberg, expressed joy that P2's world music program "Wasabi" was discontinued.

- It was a pity that people got a bad impression of the association because of that case. The statements primarily represented the leader's personal opinions. We are not against pop, rock and jazz, but believe that all forms of music should be made visible. It is important that we do not appear grumpy and repel those who like pop and rock, says Helseth.


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